Of the sacred and the secular: Missionary collections in university museums
Dr. George Leslie Mackay
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AbstractIn 1882, Dr George Leslie Mackay (1844–1901), a Canadian Presbyterian missionary, established the earliest higher education institution in Taiwan, the Oxford College (today’s Aletheia University), and the first university museum collection on the island. After years of neglect, at the end of the 20th century, the collection was ‘rediscovered’ by Canadian and Taiwanese anthropologists from the Royal Museum of Ontario, Canada. Just as these illustrious artifacts embark on a new chapter in life, they also seem to be re-introduced with their original interpretations: items that Dr Mackay preserved to demonstrate the idol-worshipping and heathen beliefs of the ‘savages’ are, once again, seen from a pagan perspective. To date, they are deemed as one of the best resources available for contemporary researchers to understand the spiritual life and value system of the Taiwanese Aborigines. Dr. Mackay’s collection is extraordinary, but its history is far from unique. This paper aims to examine university museums whose holdings have strong theological ties. As user communities change and new research interests emerge, ecclesiastical collections have helped to shed new lights on secular scholarship on such topics as ethnography, folklore studies and even missionary work itself.